Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Mitch Dickman's documentary, HANNA RANCH, combines conservation, ranching and family

TrustMovies didn't know anything about Kirk Hanna -- or about the Hanna family of Colorado and its rather large ranch -- before viewing the new documentary, HANNA RANCH, from filmmaker Mitch Dickman (shown below). The movie makes a fitting memorial for this unusual fellow and his family; it's one that, should you chance upon it, you won't easily forget. It combines several subjects of particular interest to the USA today -- land conservation (as opposed to development), the business of ranching, and how to make all this work together, though at this point in our environ-mental time, it is most likely too late to learn or profit from any of this.

Above all else, and emotionally-speaking, the documentary will grab you hardest in its look at family, and the feud between brothers Kirk and Steve for control of the ranch. It might also make those of us disposed to think poorly of organized religion to do so once again, as the fight seems to come down to the question of helping the environment via a better method of ranching (Kirk's plan) against selling off the property to developers and making more money (the plan of Steve, who is a member of the Mormon faith).

One of the more interesting articles I've read over the past several years is this one, from Harper's Magazine -- which makes some very pointed connections between money and the Mormon faith. The article blew back into mind as I watched Hanna Ranch and realized how brother Steve was "helping" his religion (and its proselytizing) at the expense of the rest of his family and its ranch.

The movie itself concentrates on Kirk Hanna (shown above in adulthood and below as a kid), and is, I must admit, a kind of love letter/homage to the man, who -- from what we see and hear here -- was a fellow to be reckoned with. Interestingly, his youth would seem to have predicted anything but the kind of man he eventually became.

The manner in which he teased and took advantage of his younger half-brother Jay (who suddenly replaced Kirk as the "adorable youngest child" in the family) is not, I guess, all that unusual among siblings, but how Kirk, as an adult endeavored to bring Jay back into the family and set him up as a kind of co-manager of the ranch is both commendable and interesting.

We hear from various friends and family members, including Steve -- who is constantly trying to justify his actions -- and from Eric Schlosser (above), author of Fast Food Nation, who met and began working with Kirk and found, to his surprise, that rare, ahead-of-his-time rancher who was genuinely interested in bettering the environment.

Kirk was a follower and disciple of Holistic Ranch Management, well before this kind of ranching and farming became known worldwide as the better way to do it. A smart and practical guy, Kirk also understood the usefulness of Conservations Easements. (Watching this film brought to mind the recent documentary being shown on PBS, Rebels With a Cause. Kirk Hanna seems to have been doing individually what the folk in "Rebels" were doing as a group.)

Still, considering what happened to this man, there must have been planted in Kirk as a child some strong religious seed involving shame and self-abnegation, coupled perhaps to a genetic penchant for depression. Though the movie is mostly talking heads (they talk very well) and accompanying visuals of the time, people and place, Mr. Dickman's doc builds quite a head of suspense and emotion.

This is finally a tale of a good, forward-thinking man brought down by a self-satisfied, self-justifying brother who seems to have used religion as some kind of weapon. (Surprise! Isn't that's what faith-in-the-unproveable has been best at throughout history?)

In the post-Kirk world, his widow, Ann (below), and their children, who seem relatively strong women, are doing OK. It's half-brother Jay (above) -- the sweetest, saddest of the family -- who is having the most difficult time. He'll tear at your heart without even trying. Hanna Ranch is one powerful, sad and memorable documentary.

The film, running a brief 73 minutes, opens this Friday, May 16, in New York City at the Quad Cinema and in the L.A. area at Laemmle's Play-house 7, Pasadena, before moving in the weeks to come to Colorado and Texas.  You can see all currently scheduled playdates by clicking here.

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